Indianapolis, Indiana - Remarks by Vice President Pence at the 101st American Legion National Convention:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, National Commander Brett Reistad, National Adjutant Dan Wheeler, distinguished guests, but most of all, all of you members of the American Legion who have worn the uniform of the United States of America: It is great to be here with you in the city of Indianapolis at the 101st National Convention of the American Legion - (applause) - starting a new century of leadership.
And let me say what an honor it is to be able to welcome so many of you here to the Hoosier State and to be back home again in Indiana. (Applause.) And I’m proud to say we’ve got some Hoosiers in the house. (Applause.)
And I’m awfully proud to stand with all of you. The American Legion is the largest and most influential veterans organization in America and it’s headquartered right here in Indiana. (Applause.)
It really is great to be with so many friends from all across the country — veterans all who’ve served this country over the course of your life and are continuing to serve in your efforts to the American Legion.
But let me mention one friend in particular. I’m especially honored to be joined today by a Vietnam combat veteran, a two-time recipient of the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star. And when I was governor, he was one of the greatest champions of veterans this state has ever known. And now he’s one of Indiana’s newest members of the Congress of the United States. Would you join me in welcoming Congressman Jim Baird to this American Legion National Convention? (Applause.) What a great American.
And speaking of friends of mine, allow me to bring greetings from another friend of mine, who when I told him that I was headed here to see all of you people today, I think he sounded just a little bit jealous. (Laughter.) He is a champion of the men and women of our armed forces and their families. He is a champion of the veterans of the United States of America. And I bring greetings from our nation’s Commander-in-Chief and the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
You know, it really is the greatest honor of my life to serve as Vice President to a President who gets up every day and fights to keep the promises that he made to the American people and to all of those who serve in uniform today and have served in the uniform of the United States. Because, frankly, this administration, just like the American Legion, has been standing for all of the same things.
Like the Legion, we’ve stood with our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard. And we’re giving them the resources and the support they need to accomplish their mission again. (Applause.)
We’ve stood by our veterans, giving them the benefits and care that they deserve once again. And under this President, this administration will always stand by our American flag, we will always stand for our national anthem, and just like the American Legion, we will always defend the freedom and sacrifice they represent. (Applause.) I promise you.
Those cherished ideals are really what the American Legion is all about. You know, it’s amazing to think a hundred years ago, veterans of this nation gathered in the city of Minneapolis at the request of the United States Congress to build a community of veterans. And so you have.
When they gathered in Minneapolis, history records they swore to associate themselves for God and country. And to this day, the American Legion stands strong on its four founding pillars: to care for our veterans, a strong national defense, the wellbeing of America’s youth, and championing the cause of Americanism.
You’ve come alongside those who have borne the battle and for the families — the families that supported them. And last year alone, the Legion helped more than 2,400 veterans find jobs, and the American Legion raised more than $1.4 million for VA hospitals, and donated almost 4 million hours of community volunteer service. The American Legion is making a difference for our veterans. (Applause.)
As the National Commander just said, I can testify firsthand you’ve been busy teaching our young people about the principles that make our country great, whether it’s through the Boys Scouts, American Legion Baseball, or that American Legion Oratorical Contest.
You know, I just did an interview with the magazine, and I — I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to the American Legion, because it was in that American Legion Oratorical Contest that my love affair for the Constitution of the United States of America began. And you have my thanks. (Applause.)
The truth is, looking out at all of you and all of the distinguished leaders gathered on this stage, I know you come from the rest of us, but make no mistake about it: Your President and I know you’re the best of us.
So, on behalf of a grateful Commander-in-Chief, on behalf of a grateful nation, let me simply begin today by saying, “Thank you for your service.” (Applause.) We’ll always be grateful.
But the American Legion is not only filled with members who have dedicated your lives to serving this country, first in uniform, and now standing alongside our veterans, but this organization has also lent your voice to the cause of the American veteran throughout our land.
And I’m here to tell you I’ve been serving alongside him now for a little more than two and a half years. American veterans have a champion in President Donald Trump. (Applause.) I see it every time we’re talking about issues affecting the veterans. This President is very impatient when it comes to us meeting the promises that we’ve made to our veterans. And I’m going to talk a little bit about that and what, together, we’ve been able to accomplish under this President’s leadership.
You know, the President put it well not long ago. He said, our veterans have fought for our country, and now our administration is going to keep fighting for you.
Since the first days of this administration, I can tell you, your President, this Vice President, and our administration have been doing just that — and not a moment too soon. The truth is, three short years ago, years of budgetary neglect combined with ever-growing foreign commitments was sapping the strength of our men and women in uniform today and challenging their morale. Scandal after scandal at the VA revealed a cold indifference to the fate of our veterans. But under President Donald Trump, those days are over. (Applause.)
You remember, in his speech to the American Legion in September of 2016, as a candidate, our President promised to “rebuild our depleted military,” and as he said, “ensure every veteran in America gets timely access to top-quality care” and most importantly, we were going to “stop apologizing for America” and we were going to “start celebrating America.” And that’s exactly what we’ve done. (Applause.)
And three years later, this President has delivered. And with the strong support of our allies in the Congress, as I stand before you today, America is more prosperous, our military is stronger, and our veterans are finally getting the care and the respect that you deserve every single day. (Applause.)
You know, as the father of a United States Marine, I couldn’t be more proud to serve alongside a President who cares so deeply about the men and women of our armed forces and their families. I’m proud to report to you as well that, since the first day of this administration, our President has worked to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still.
And President Trump has actually signed into law the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan. And this month, we signed a budget deal that secured $738 billion for our military and gave our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard the biggest pay raise they’ve had in the last 10 years. (Applause.)
With that renewed investment, our Army will have nearly 300 new M1 Abrams tanks. The Navy will deploy the most advanced class of aircraft carriers in history. The Air Force will have hundreds of brand new Joint Strike Fighters, the F-35. And tomorrow, the President will install four-star General John Raymond as the first commander of U.S. Space Command. And very soon, we will stand up the sixth branch of our armed forces. The United States Space Command will be here soon. (Applause.)
As the President has said, “Our active-duty personnel are now the best-equipped, best-trained, and most technologically advanced fighting force in the history of the world.” And it’s true.
And with this renewed American strength, we are once again embracing our role as leader of the free world. As the world witnessed again at the G7 Summit just this last weekend, we have a President who is standing up for America on the world stage, who is putting America first every single day.
And under this President’s leadership, we’re once again standing with our allies and standing up to our enemies. Our NATO allies are contributing more to our common defense than ever before. We’ve confronted the world’s largest state sponsor of terror when we withdrew from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. (Applause.)
And after being taken advantage of in trade by many countries for more than a quarter of a century, this President has stood strong for American jobs and American workers.
We’ve put China on notice that we will no longer tolerate their unfair and abusive trade practices. And the United States military will ensure the freedom of navigation on the Seven Seas around the world. (Applause.)
And, as we all know, we’ve taken the fight to radical Islamic terrorists, on our terms, on their soil. You know, five years ago, the so-called ISIS caliphate actually controlled nearly 35,000 square miles in Syria and Iraq. They subjected 5 million people to unspeakable barbarism and oppression.
But, today, thanks to the courage of our armed forces and the leadership of our Commander-in-Chief, earlier this year, the last inch of territory controlled by the ISIS caliphate was captured. (Applause.) The territory of the ISIS caliphate has crumbled. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment for our troops and a source of great American pride.
Beyond that, from the outset of this administration, this President also stood strong against North Korean aggression, and now North Korea is at the negotiating table. As I stand before you today, there’s no more nuclear tests, no more threats against America. Three historic meetings have taken place. And thanks to the leadership of this President, North Korea’s leader also promised to return the remains of all fallen U.S. service members in the Korean War. (Applause.)
And, I have to tell you, the national commander mentioned that I’m not only the father of a Marine but I’m the son of a Korean combat veteran. And I have to tell you — and I told the President this, and he never gave me any greater honor than when he allowed me to represent him when the remains of the first 55 soldiers returned to American soil in Hawaii in July of last year.
Watching those 55 small, flag-draped caskets come off the plane was an extraordinary experience. We brought back — we brought back our heroes, and there’s more to come. We received then word that the very first soldier that was identified was Army Master Sergeant Charles H. McDaniel, of Vernon, Indiana. And now, the Master Sergeant is resting at home, where he belongs. (Applause.)
At this point, more than two dozen have been identified and restored to their families and their communities. And I want to assure you that as we continue negotiations with North Korea, as we continue to seek peace on the Korean Peninsula, the denuclearization of North Korea, this President and this administration will not rest until we bring all our boys home from the Korean War. (Applause.)
So we’ve been rebuilding our military, restoring the arsenal of democracy, and renewing American leadership on the world stage. But as President Trump has said, “As we take care of those serving today” — just like the American Legion — our “administration is equally committed to taking care of every warrior that returns home as a veteran.”
In this White House, let me be clear: This President and this administration know veterans’ benefits are not entitlements; they are the ongoing compensation that was earned in the uniform of the United States of America. (Applause.)
And since day one, our administration has taken decisive action to ensure that America keeps the solemn promises that it made to each and every one of you and all of our nation’s heroes. And that began with fixing the VA.
Under this President’s leadership, with our partners in Congress, we passed the VA Mission Act — the most sweeping VA reform law in half a century. And today, nearly 3 million veterans have been able to see the doctor of their choice and get the medicine they need. (Applause.)
The President also signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to ensure that our veterans receive the highest levels of service in the VA system. And today, I’m pleased to report that, under this administration, we’ve fired more than 7,000 VA employees for negligent behavior. The era of abuse at the VA is over. We’re not going to put up with it anymore. (Applause.)
And since our administration took office, wait times have dropped by 33 percent. In fact, the AMA says that wait times are now shorter for the VA than they are for private doctors. (Applause.) And that’s just how it should be for our veterans.
This year alone, the VA has processed more than 1.2 million claims for compensation and increased the number of appeals decisions by 70 percent. We’re off to a great start making sure that our veterans are getting the healthcare that you earned. But we’re going to keep pressing on it.
I mean, the results speak for themselves. Before President Trump took office, trust in the VA among veterans was only 59 percent. Today, trust in the VA among veterans is 88 percent and rising. But as the President said, we’re not going to stop until it’s 100 percent of veterans approving the VA. (Applause.)
We also increased funding for mental health services by almost $9 billion. The VA is now providing mental health screenings to every patient that walks through the door.
And as we meet the healthcare needs of our veterans, let me make you another promise: This administration will always make room for the spiritual needs of our heroes at the VA as well. (Applause.)
You might’ve heard even today that there’s a lawsuit to remove a Bible that was carried in World War II from a Missing Man Table at a VA hospital in New Hampshire. There’s a lawsuit underway. It’s really no surprise because, under the last administration, VA hospitals were removing Bibles and even banning Christmas carols in an effort to be politically correct. But let me be clear: Under this administration, VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones. (Applause.)
We will always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith. And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is: The Bible stays. (Applause.)
Beyond our VA hospitals, we’ve also been making sure that our veterans get the care they need outside of our institutional care. And we’ve actually found permanent homes for nearly 30,000 homeless veterans. There should be no homeless veterans in America. (Applause.) We put an end to this scourge in at least 76 communities and three whole states.
We’ve expanded the GI Bill so that veterans can get up to $24,000 to attend the college of their choice at any point in their careers.
And just two weeks ago, President Trump directed the Department of Education to eliminate every last penny of student debt owed by permanently disabled veterans. (Applause.) With the stroke of a pen, President Trump wiped out as much as $750 million owed by more than 25,000 heroes. (Applause.)
And he couldn’t have been more right. He couldn’t have been more right when he said that our heroes “should not have to pay to live their dreams after they have…paid so much…[for] the American Dream.” (Applause.)
And, of course, the greatest benefit of any returning veteran — people coming home from service in uniform — is a robust, dynamic, and growing economy. And we’ve delivered on that as well. This President has taken decisive action to reignite the engine of opportunity so that when America’s warfighters return to civilian life, they have an abundance of opportunities to earn a good living and pursue their dreams.
From early in this administration, we went right to work. After the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, where in the last eight years our economy only grew by 2 percent, this President and our administration went to work with Congress and we cut taxes across the board for working families and businesses. We rolled back red tape. We cut more red tape in the first two years than any President in American history. We unleashed American energy so that, next year, America will be a net exporter of oil and natural gas for the first time in 70 years. (Applause.) And we fought for trade deals that put American jobs and American workers first. (Applause.)
The result for our veterans coming back in the workforce and for every American since Election Day: Businesses large and small have created more than 6 million new jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to a near 50-year low. The unemployment rate among veterans has fallen by nearly 40 percent. And under our administration, veterans’ unemployment has reached the lowest level in nearly 20 years. Our veterans are working again and finding jobs. (Applause.)
In fact, veterans’ unemployment is now lower than even the national average. It’s incredible. And to those of you that have a friend, a family member, or a veteran looking for work, you might remind them there’s actually more job openings in America today than there are people looking for work. Never a better time. Never a better time to come back and go to work in this country.
And over the past three years, with the strong support of the American Legion, our administration has — we’ve replaced weakness with vigor, doubt with confidence, and neglect with compassion and the care of the American people. Together, we’re forging a new future of American strength. And, together, we’re making America strong, we’re making America secure, and we’re making America great again. (Applause.)
But if we want to keep America great, we’ve got to keep fighting, keep standing strong, keep demanding government as good as our people. And I promise you, we will. We’re going to keep fighting also for all of the ideals that the American Legion has held dear and held up since your founding more than a century ago. The ideals that are the essence of Americanism, expressed in our Declaration that recites that we’re endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights; endowed by our Creator with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The ideals that are enshrined in our glorious Constitution that all of you in this room put on the uniform to defend.
And, I promise you, those rights — those rights and God-given liberties enshrined in our Bill of Rights — I promise you this President, this Vice President, and all of the 140 judges that we have seen appointed to our federal courts at every level, are going to uphold all those liberties, from the freedom of speech, to the freedom of religion, to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. (Applause.)
And we’re going to — just like the American Legion has done, like you did in the service to this nation, and this organization has done through its long and storied history — we’re going to — we’ll always stand for freedom.
You know, it’s remarkable to think that some in Washington today actually openly advocate an economic system that has impoverished millions and stolen the freedom of generations. That system is socialism.
But as those of you who have fought to defend our freedom know well, it was freedom, not socialism, that gave us the strongest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world. (Applause.) It was freedom.
It was freedom, not socialism, that ended slavery, won two World Wars, and stands today as a beacon of hope for all of the world.
And so, in the weeks and months ahead, I say to all of my friends here at the American Legion, and all of those looking on around the country: In the days that lie ahead, we must say with one voice, as President Trump said in his State of the Union Address, America will “never be a socialist country.” (Applause.) Thank you.
And we’ll do this for this generation of Americans and for our posterity. We’ll do this to preserve the last best hope of Earth. But make no mistake about it: We will also do this to honor the service and the sacrifice of all those in this room and in the generation who’ve gone before to preserve freedom and defend it.
President Ronald Reagan used to say, “Freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction.” And so, as we look ahead, let me remind you: We can’t just settle to win the next election; we’ve got to win the next generation. We have to carry the message of freedom to every American. (Applause.) Because we have to remember — as all of you know better than me — the price that was paid for freedom.
You know, standing before you today is deeply humbling because my life didn’t take me into the uniform of the United States. But as the son of a combat veteran and a father of a member of the service, and soon to be the proud father-in-law of a Navy pilot — (applause) — my daughter just got engaged — it’s an honor to be before you today and to be among those in my family who answered the call that you answered. All of you did your part. And the truth is, through your work in the American Legion, you’re still doing it.
But now, more than ever, we need your commitment to support our men and women in uniform today, to stand by those who have borne the battle and their families. And now, more than ever, we need you stand with all of those who are willing to stand up for the ideals that have always been synonymous with the American Legion. Ideals at the very heart of the American way of life. Ideals you fought to defend and that many defended at the cost of their very lives.
As men and women of the American Legion know, freedom isn’t free. It’s bought at a price and has been defended with the dearest price of all.
Last Friday, my wife Karen and I were at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where service members that fall in combat come home. We were there for the return of two combat soldiers — warriors who fell in a firefight about a week ago in Afghanistan: Master Sergeant Jose Gonzalez and Master Sergeant Luis Deleon, Special Forces, 7th Army. They were the best of the best. Incredible men. Both of them had been on multiple deployments overseas. Never hesitated to go back.
I actually met Jose at Walter Reed Hospital in February of 2017. He was recovering from combat injuries he’d received and was preparing to get back to the fight. But as were talking with his wife, Brenda, she told me that as he was recovering at Walter Reed, it was Luis that came to her house and he said to her that Jose was going to be fine, and that when he returned to the fight, she shouldn’t worry because, he said, “I’ll never leave him.”
Karen and I stood there. We looked into the eyes of these two extraordinary women with tears in their eyes and tears in ours. And as I watched the two flag-draped coffins come off that aircraft together, all I could think is, he kept his word. He never left him.
They both went into the battlefield together, and from there, to eternity. And today, their earthly remains are home. And I promise you, this nation will never forget or fail to honor the service and sacrifice of Master Sergeant Jose Gonzalez and Master Sergeant Luis Deleon. (Applause.)
I recite their names with reverence. And I know there are names in your mind that you’re thinking of now. We remember them. We’re inspired by them. And our resolve is steeled to continue to stand for all they fought to defend.
Ours is the land of the free because it’s always been the home of the brave. And you are the brave. You stood in the gap. You held a far-distant post for freedom, and you counted our lives more important than yours. And the American people will always be grateful.
As the Psalmist wrote, you “trained your hands for war,” and we thank Him who gave you the grace “to advance against a troop” and come home safe to serve all of those who also serve.
So thank you for your service. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for doing your part in uniform, and every day since, to stand by our military, to stand for our freedom, doing your part to preserve this last best hope of Earth for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.
May God bless the American Legion, the entire Legion family. May God bless the men and women of our armed forces. And may God bless America. Thank you all very much.